Religion takes a lot of flak for the science-denial it inspires in those believers who try to re-frame reality in order to fit their particular religious text’s claims. Young Earth Creationists are a perfect example: they’ll discount mountains of evidence in order to cling to the narrow interpretation they’ve embraced. However, we tend to spend less time paying attention to the equally futile efforts of believers who reshape and rework those texts to sort-of, kind-of slip in-between the cracks of reality.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Carl Drews is a good example of what I mean. Drews is a software engineer with a Masters Degree in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, who has spent a good deal of time trying to prove that Moses’ parting of the Red Sea actually happened.
Drews is not a science-denier; he accepts evolution, has done research on climate change, etc. But Drews believes that the Exodus was real, and so, for his master’s thesis, he set about trying to prove that it could have happened without supernatural intervention.
He has since written a book on the topic. Chris Mooney quotes him in an article for the Washington Post:
“I’m arguing that the historical event happened in 1250 B.C., and the memories of it have been recorded in Exodus,” says Drews. “The people of the time gloried in God and gave God credit.”
How Drews explains the Red Sea parting is quite interesting. For starters, he argues that it wasn’t the Red Sea at all, but the Lake of Tanis. The original Hebrew specifies a “Sea of Reeds”; while it is unclear what body of water this refers to,
Drews and his co-author Weiqing Han provide [a] map, which basically amounts to their hypothesis for what a particular portion of the Eastern Nile Delta looked like, circa 1250 B.C.
This map has the crossing at the Lake of Tanis, where a lot of reeds do indeed grow. This, then, becomes the Sea of Reeds. Notes Mooney:
… this is where one large potential objection to the idea comes in — all this depends heavily on the accuracy of these attempts to reconstruct the landscape of Exodus. That’s a task laden with uncertainty — and also one where the desire to “prove” the accuracy of the Bible may color interpretations.
While these are valid objections, the landscape is crucial to the idea, as Drews’ belief is that the Sea of Reeds crossing was facilitated by something known as “wind setdown,” which is when
… strong winds — a little over 60 miles per hour — create a “push” on coastal water which, in one location, creates a storm surge. But in the location from which the wind pushes — in this case, the east — the water moves away.
Drews’ map creates a location where wind setdown could happen. He even created a computer model to illustrate how this would all play out, provided the fleeing Israelites were stopped at the shores of the Lake of Tanis (rather than the Red Sea), and provided that such a storm happened at precisely the right moment.
“In my model, Moses has 4 hours to get across,” says Drews. The area of land that becomes available for crossing in Drews’ computer model is 3 to 4 kilometers long, and 5 km wide.
Presumably, Pharaoh decided to give them a four hour head start to be sporting. Regardless, Drews sees past these objections, to find purpose to his model.
“Faith and science can be compatible if you are willing to consider other interpretations of the text, other ideas of how this could have happened,” he says.
And, to be fair, when your “interpretations” involve such lengths as Drews has gone to, you are bound to avoid a lot of the problems more fundamentalist believers encounter. Indeed, with enough effort, you could probably make a belief in Santa Claus compatible with science. But, really, when you have to throw in more story revisions, plot twists, and lucky coincidences than your average daytime soap opera, it’s probably time to be honest with yourself: what you’re doing is less “science” and more “wishful thinking without magic.”